Why we need to swipe right on people we are not attracted to

Unfortunately, dating apps have us judging people almost exclusively by looks. But as psychologist Amantha Imber explains, expanding your dating pool beyond aesthetics might actually uncover someone great for you. 

Thanks to COVID-19, lockdowns, and social distancing, singles are overly reliant on online dating. Gone are the days where we could walk into a crowded bar and easily mingle and meet others without wearing a mask and keeping 1.5 metres apart.

Unfortunately, the information we can see about someone on dating apps tend to be far less compared to the face-to-face encounter. In addition, the amount of choice online can feel overwhelming, with potentially hundreds of profiles to swipe through every day.

For this reason, we tend to make very quick decisions about who we want to match with because carefully reading through every word on someone’s profile description when we are presented with so many options takes time that most of us don’t have.

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Stop placing so much emphasis on looks

To shortcut our decision-making process, we tend to overweight aesthetics. Let’s face it – the main question we ask ourselves when deciding whether to swipe right (and indicate we want to match with the person) or swipe left (no thanks!) is largely based on whether we think the person is attractive.

However, what we know from research is that how attractive we find someone varies greatly over time. In one experiment, Professor Paul Eastwick had university students rate their peers’ attractiveness at the beginning of semester, and then again at the end of the semester. The initial ratings showed that most people were in agreement as to who was attractive and who was less appealing.

However, by the end of the 10-week semester, attractiveness ratings were far more diverse. Someone who was initially rated as a three out of 10 had, in some people’s eyes, moved up to a seven out of 10. And of course, some people’s ratings decreased too.

This is because there is an array of factors that impact someone’s attractiveness over time, such as personality, chemistry, and non-verbal behaviour.

“If you look at broader samples over time, people start to disagree about whether people are attractive as they get to know that person in real life,” Professor Eastwick says on the How To Date podcast.

“So what this suggests is that physical attractiveness is a real thing that we can all agree on, but it actually starts to fade away. It starts to become far more blurry over time as people are getting to know each other.”

Be more lenient with your judgements

Professor Eastwick suggests that in the context of online dating, we may be too quick to reject potentially suitable partners due to only swiping right on those we are very attracted to. Instead, he recommends being more lenient with our judgements about physical appearance and giving attraction the chance to grow over a series of dates.

“Moving off messaging to video as quickly as possible will help us ascertain whether we are attracted to someone,” explains Professor Eastwick.

“A video gives you a portion of what that interactive chemistry is going to be like. It’s going to be better than just looking at a photograph or reading a profile or texting back and forth.”

However, Professor Eastwick does indicate there are limitations with video.

“Computer-mediated forms really can’t quite substitute for the full experience that comes from multiple face-to-face meetings.”

Don’t worry if there is no initial spark

Don’t write someone off if sparks don’t fly immediately.

“The extent to which you hit it off at the beginning doesn’t end up mattering all that much for where this thing is going to go,” Professor Eastwick explains.

“Yes, sometimes people hook up almost instantly, but that bodes no better or poorly for how long the relationship is going to last on average. The same thing goes for feeling pretty negatively in the beginning.”

By lowering your attractiveness bar, at least by a couple of points, you’ll substantially increase the pool of potential dates to choose from and ultimately, increase the chances of finding someone great for you.

Dr Amantha Imber is a psychologist and the co-host of How To Date, a podcast about how to master the messy, complex, and downright bizarre world of dating.